As bright and optimistic as those first few rays that the sun gives off at the break of dawn, a swaggering guitar lick comes to life in the opening bars of “Endless Fantasy,” one of three new songs from jazz-schooled bluesman Bud Summers seeing release ahead of his forthcoming album Hard Lessons. Its pendulous swing is countered by an urgent, bottom-heavy percussive attack from drummer Marc Waters, who instantly finds the right style of gallop to complement his frontman’s fiery riffing. The bass is slinky and subtle, but it’s still playing a major role in the grander scheme of things here; keyboardist John Hand peppers the bridge with some swanky piano striking, but once we reach the 2:45 mark in the song, all eyes are on Summers, who dispenses a textured solo that brings down the house in a little over two-thirds of a minute. Along with “Bad Fish” and the eccentric “So Deep,” “Endless Fantasy” gives listeners a glimpse inside of Hard Lessons, and by the looks of its first three offerings, is going to be one of the more significant releases we hear this season.
Structured around its zany time signatures and rollicking blues melody, “Bad Fish” shows off Bud Summers’ organic rapport with bassist Rob McDonnell, as the two duel with each other for our affections in a dexterous sonic war. Summers’ singing is surreal and softer within the master mix than the strings are, but I get the impression that he wanted us to be focused on the guitar parts more than anything else in this track. Hand throws down a firm keyboard performance that beautifully aligns with the unwinding percussion, but Summers is always reminding us who the boss is around here, in one way or another.
These players gel together remarkably well, and if you ask me, without the support of his backing band, I don’t know if these songs would be quite as unbelievably engaging as they ultimately are in this form. At the same time though, Summers has shown us time and again that he’s the type of songwriter who can adapt to anything, whether it be a band environment or a straight-solo performance.
“So Deep” might be the most brooding track I’ve heard bearing the Bud Summers moniker to date. Right off the bat, it’s beckoning us closer with a cultured melody that is soon melded with understated drumming and an engrossing vocal harmony that is as evocative as the words it’s conveying are. While I enjoy “Bad Fish” and “Endless Fantasy” quite a bit, this was the song that really sold me on Hard Lessons. I hope that I have the chance to catch Summers in a live performance at some point or another, as he’s clearly tapping into a side of his artistry that was meant to invigorate a crowded concert hall full of fans ready to give their hearts up to the stage. The cornerstones of Hard Lessons share some of their main ingredients with iconic songs both past and present, but don’t let their familiar resonance fool you – this material and its maestro are as original as it gets.